Scholar and retired soldier, Andrew Bacevich, wants U.S. leaders to be bold and abandon designs for redefining NATO’s mission:
When Gen. Stanley McChrystal’s famous assessment of the situation in Afghanistan leaked to the media last year, most observers focused on his call for additional U.S. troops. Yet the report was also a scathing demand for change in NATO’s International Security Assistance Force (ISAF). “ISAF will change its operating culture…. ISAF will change the way it does business,” he wrote. “ISAF’s subordinate headquarters must stop fighting separate campaigns.” The U.S. general found just about nothing in ISAF’s performance to commend.
But McChrystal’s prospects for fixing ISAF run headlong into two stubborn facts. First, European governments prioritize social welfare over all other considerations — including funding their armed forces. Second, European governments have an exceedingly limited appetite for casualties. So the tepid, condition-laden European response to McChrystal’s call for reinforcements — a couple of battalions here, a few dozen trainers there, some creative bookkeeping to count units that deployed months ago as fresh arrivals — is hardly surprising.
This doesn’t mean that NATO is without value. It does suggest that relying on the alliance to sustain a protracted counterinsurgency aimed at dragging Afghans kicking and screaming into modernity makes about as much sense as expecting the “war on drugs” to curb the world’s appetite for various banned substances. It’s not going to happen.
If NATO has a future, it will find that future back where the alliance began: in Europe. NATO’s founding mission of guaranteeing the security of European democracies has lost none of its relevance. Although the Soviet threat has vanished, Russia remains. And Russia, even if no longer a military superpower, does not exactly qualify as a status quo country. The Kremlin nurses grudges and complaints, not least of them stemming from NATO’s own steady expansion eastward.
So let NATO attend to this new (or residual) Russian problem. Present-day Europeans — even Europeans with a pronounced aversion to war — are fully capable of mounting the defenses necessary to deflect a much reduced Eastern threat. So why not have the citizens of France and Germany guarantee the territorial integrity of Poland and Lithuania, instead of fruitlessly demanding that Europeans take on responsibilities on the other side of the world that they can’t and won’t?
Like Nixon setting out for Beijing, like Sadat flying to Jerusalem, like Reagan deciding that Gorbachev was cut from a different cloth, the United States should dare to do the unthinkable: allow NATO to devolve into a European organization, directed by Europeans to serve European needs, upholding the safety and well-being of a Europe that is whole and free — and more than able to manage its own affairs.
As with Nixon and Sadat and Reagan, once the deed is done everyone will ask: Why didn’t we think of that sooner?